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by Scott Juster

24 Mar 2011

Author’s note: This essay was written based on Version 15 of Inside a Star-filled Sky.  On March 22, 2011, Version 16 was released.  It introduced major changes regarding the game’s structure.  Unlike Version 15, players of Version 16 all inhabit the same procedurally generated world and also have the ability to place flags marking their progress on a global server.

Obviously, this undermines certain themes in the essay, particularly the ones regarding the individuality and isolation inherent in each player’s experience.  However, most of the material remains relevant.

Although they throw a monkey wrench into my essay, I think these changes are quite interesting, especially in light of the game’s previous versions.  What started out as a unique, solitary journey has slowly become a more uniform, social experience.  Inside a Star-filled Sky is still a big place, but players are no longer alone in its universe.

Additionally, this event is yet another example of the medium’s ephemeral nature.  The game I wrote about is substantially different from the game as it now exists.  What are the implications of such malleability?  How do we study the history of the medium in light of its ever-changing nature?  Is there a way to determine the “canonical” version of a particular game?  Is a game ever truly finished?  Are these questions even worth pursuing?  In any case, they are questions for another day. 

I hope you enjoy this piece on Inside a Star-filled Sky, Version 15.  Thanks for reading.

Jason Rohrer’s Inside a Star-filled Sky is a difficult game to grasp, not only due to the game’s ambitious scale, but because its layers aspire to divergent goals and achieve varying levels of success.  It’s nearly impossible to offer a single evaluation of a game that defies boundaries, so perhaps the best way to evaluate it is to mimic its own structure, zooming in and out between its nested layers of meaning. 

On a macro level, the game encapsulates the medium’s current thematic fascinations with recursion, randomness, and challenge.  These ideas are clever, but their implementation is hobbled by mechanical weaknesses that illustrate the difficulty of marrying an artistic vision with elegant craftsmanship.  Finally, and most broadly, the game’s overarching themes offer philosophical messages about the humbling search for meaning in video games and beyond.  Inside a Star-Filled Sky may be composed of simple little sprites, but those unassuming figures house sophisticated concepts.

by Rick Dakan

24 Mar 2011

Chapter 1 of Rage Quite is available in .pdf format here.

This was familiar alien territory for Lea. She and 2,311 others like her had fought and died on this ground over the past two years, and as far as she could tell there was no end in sight. But that was OK; fighting and dying was what she was supposed to do, the only thing a 100% dedicated, veteran soldier like her was supposed to think about. At that moment the mission was all most of her was thinking about – how to fight her way through the warren of hostile-infested caves without some spiny-tailed thing dicing her into blood-red mist. Only the smallest part of her thoughts harbored any hidden doubts about fighting another battle against the endless legions of alien soldiers entombed in the fortified tunnels, and she wasn’t ready to listen to those doubts. Not yet she wasn’t.

Her HUD’s radar showed four green dots, the one in the middle was her, the three behind and to the left her squad mates. She knew that if she’d looked at them she’d see identical male figures wearing green and brown power armor, dark visored helmets covering their faces. Visually there was no way to distinguish between them, but she always knew exactly which was which. In contrast to her own unique yellow armor was tightly tailored to match the curves of her body, a symbol of her rank that left no doubt as to who was in command.  She’d trained all of them herself and trusted them to fight to their best ability, but they all had only 36% of her experience in battle. None of them possessed her instinct. To win they would have to obey her commands without fail or delay. Assuming of course those glitches in the comm system had been ironed out and there was no longer any lag between her thinking an order and them carrying it out. Clearing the caves of enemies would require perfect timing, and even then, experience told her that it was probably impossible. She knew the layout of the tunnels backwards and forwards, down to the placement of each auto-turret and the murder holes of every hostile trooper. There were a million different tactical options open to her once they got inside, none of them very hopeful. Right now the gaping maw of the tunnel forty meters in front of her was the only course that presented itself. She and her team had no other choice.

by Kris Ligman

22 Mar 2011

I’m admittedly cynical about the phrase “owns her sexuality.”  Not the concept, but rather the application of it, which I seem to find ascribed to any female character who fits the “girl who kicks ass” cliche irrespective of how she is otherwise objectified and depowered. I have listened to the arguments for why Bayonetta, for instance, is empowering and pro-feminine. Some, such as that by my blogmate G. Christopher Williams, are quite well-argued— but I still don’t agree. My view of the situation is perhaps best articulated by the likes of William Huber, who contended: “I had found it difficult to explain the inadequacy - even the wrong-headedness - of this approach, my perception that these depictions still ultimately served male vanities and played on female anxieties, and that the male game player—his needs, desires, and qualms—still was being overwhelmingly served in games that were supposedly being targeted to both men and women” (“The perpetuation of a misguided notion”,, 12 January 2010).

As a game designed by men and targeted to men (as most games are), Bayonetta does not particularly convince me that it is either profeminine or empowering in its cartoonish portrayal of the female figure. I’m open to differing opinions on this matter, but I’m not certain that the weaponized sexuality of Bayonetta or Atlus’s upcoming Catherine are the same as women “owning” their sexuality at all, not when they seem to simply play on male anxieties of emasculation and continue to serve moderately conservative, heteronormative social views.

Dragon Age II doesn’t break down doors or revolutionize women characters, of course, but it still has some positive characteristics that I like. I’ve spoken previously about my adoration for another Dragon Age II character, Aveline Vallen and my appreciation for the Dragon Age universe’s gynocentric dominant religion, Andrastianism, which features a woman Christ figure. I’m not saying that Dragon Age is a safe haven of liberalism and positive representation of diversity in an industry sorely lacking it, but . . . Well, okay, so I am, but that isn’t to say that Dragon Age is absolutely free of problematic representation. Indeed, it certainly has issues aplenty. But if there’s one thing I never expected a game to do, it would be to teach me self-respect.

by G. Christopher Williams

21 Mar 2011

Originally conceived of as a discussion of the best superhero video games of all time, the Moving Pixels Podcast crew quickly discovered that super powered games have been—for the most part—less than super. 

With that in mind, our discussion of the presentation of superheroes in video games became, instead, a discussion of the history of the superhero in video games—more particularly the refinements that have lead to more interesting gaming experiences within this genre.

by Nick Dinicola

18 Mar 2011

There was a lot of 3D stuff on display at PAX East this past weekend. Many 3D demos were present from publishers, developers, or video card manufacturers for fighting games, shooting games, or racing games. In particular, Mortal Kombat and Crysis 2 had a very big 3D presence.  Displays featured a demo of each game being played on a massive 3DTV with buckets of glasses available for curious attendees. After watching both games being played in 3D for a good long while (sadly I didn’t get a chance to play anything on the 3DS), I came to realize that 3D is a feature best appreciated by an audience watching a game being played, but the player isn’t likely to notice the effect at all.

To be perfectly clear, I’m a proponent of 3D stuff in whatever form it takes. I like the effect, it doesn’t hurt my eyes, and I don’t mind the glasses. But like any new piece of technology, there’s a learning curve that we have to endure as artists learn to use it.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article